Research into the TUC’s history of helping trade unionists escape Nazi Germany


Guest blogger Jay Stoll describes his recent research in the TUC Library into the role of the TUC in his great-grandfather’s escape from Nazi Germany.

In the late 1930s my great-grandfather, Erich Littman, arrived in Britain from Nazi Austria. As a Trade Unionist, he had been imprisoned in Dachau Concentration Camp before managing to secure a visa for a new life in Britain. The remainder of his family were not so lucky – with many dying in Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, or in the ghettos in which they had been persecuted.

Aware of the TUC’s anti-fascist campaigns in those years, I went to the Special Collections Library at London Met to see if I could find anything that would help my search for information on my great grandfather’s escape.

The Library proved helpful for understanding the breadth of support provided by the TUC for underground movements in Nazi Austria. Often, this was done through the publication and sale of pamphlets (such as the one from Otto Bauer, pictured), and proceeds would be given to those directly engaged in the struggle for freedom.

Similarly, my visit enabled me to process the scale of the TUC’s efforts to prevent fascism advancing in Britain and their work to support the established Jewish community in their boycott of Nazi Germany. Cooperation was extensive and was clearly valued by those writing in the Jewish press at the time.

I’m still not entirely sure how the TUC managed to help my Grandpa Erich escape, but I want to thank the staff at the Library for giving me their time and access to some really helpful documents. It hopefully marks the beginning of a successful journey to understanding how my family survived and set up their life in Britain!



Exhibition ‘Labour’s special relationship: connections between the British and American labour movements from the nineteenth century until today’


Title panel of A Special Relationship exhibition

Our new exhibition will be shown at the Working Class Movement Library from 21st February 2018 to 20th April 2018, Wed-Fri 1-5pm, and the first Sat of most months 10am-4pm.

We are often told that American and British governments have a “special relationship.” Less often do we hear that the trade unions of Britain and the United States built their own special relationship over the last 200 years. Usually their relationship was weak – sometimes it rivalled the one between Presidents and Prime Ministers.

The story of labour’s special relationship is one of solidarity and fraternity. It is also one of conflict,disunity and even oppression. Whether good or bad, close or distant, British and American trade unionists have learned from and worked with each other. They have not always learned the right things.

But in the world of Donald Trump and UKIP, economic slumps and falling wages, casual labour and the disposable employee, the labour movements of Britain and United States must rebuild their special relationship if they want to survive, and prosper.

This exhibition tells the story of that special relationship, from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.

This exhibition is available for loan. Contact Jeff Howarth for details.


Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January 2018


To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow we’ve selected some pamphlets that were published to raise awareness of the persecution and murder of Jews in Europe by the Nazis

Jews against Hitler

Including some covers (below) that reflect on antisemitism and the British Union of Fascists.

Jews threaten Britain

And others (below) that reflect on anti-fascism in Britain.

it shall not happen here


Walter Citrine and the TUC’s Russia-friendly phase

TUC staff

Walter Citrine with TUC staff, sat 4th from right

Our guest blogger this week is Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official).  This is part one of three.

I had been enthused by Lenin’s picture of an electric republic, organised on such lines as would ensure to every citizen, however humble, the advantages of a planned economy and the blessings of modern civilisation.
Walter Citrine

Walter Citrine, aged 36, became Assistant General Secretary of the TUC in January 1924. A Merseyside electrician and Electrical Trades Union national official, he was appointed because of his reputation as an innovative union administrator. As Merseyside District Secretary (1914-20) and and Assistant General Secretary of the ETU at their Manchester headquarters, he was also an experienced union leader and negotiator. In 1920, Citrine had produced the first version of his famous ABC of Chairmanship as guide to the conduct of [often lively Merseyside ETU branch] meetings. It would become the standard work for generations of union and Labour activists, as Alan Johnson recalled in his memoir of his UCW days. He was also quite left-wing (Independent Labour Party and a Labour candidate in the 1918 general election for Wallasey) at the time, which suited the Left- led General Council with Fred Bramley (1876-1925) as General Secretary and Alf (A.A.) Purcell (1872-1935), as chair. He was appointed from a large field of candidates and came to live initially in the Clapham area with his wife, Doris and their two young sons, one of whom (Norman) would one day be the TUC’s Legal officer and author of an important book on union law.

Although taken on primarily for an administrative role, the poor health of Fred Bramley and his frequent absences on foreign affairs also, brought his deputy quickly into the wider affairs of the TUC. This included assisting in relations with the Russian TUC leaders who were visiting Britain in 1924 for trade talks and their application to link up with the International Federation of Trade Unions in Amsterdam. The Russian delegation was led by the chair of the All Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, Mikhail Tomsky (1880-1936), and they were impressed by Citrine’s office with the revamped administrative system which he had just introduced. Citrine would became famous for his new filing system especially, though some ‘super socialists’ who knew little of trade union organisational needs, sometimes sneered at such mundane innovations. However, Tomsky who was well aware of the shortcomings of the young Russian unions in this respect, invited him to visit and advise on theirs. Eager to help, the TUC leadership agreed to his going to Russia, though Citrine had only just started in his new post.

There had been a significant shift to the left on the General Council since Fred Bramley became General Secretary in 1923. A cabinet-maker by trade, he was a staunch ILP socialist from west Yorkshire, as well as being National Organiser for a small craft union, the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association (NAFTA). On the TUC Parliamentary Committee since 1915, he was also chair of the London Labour Party (1915-19) and had strongly opposed the war and welcomed the Russian Revolution. He became a full-timer as Assistant General Secretary in 1917 and was instrumental in replacing the Parliamentary Committee with the far more industrially-focussed General Council in 1921.

When the first Labour government was formed in January 1924, Ramsay MacDonald, the new Prime Minister, had invited a number of leading trade union figures to join the government – J.H. ‘Jimmy’ Thomas of the NUR, Margaret Bondfield of the GMWU, amongst others, all from the General Council. This left some significant vacancies on the General Council as Bondfield had been chair that year and Thomas vacated the Presidency of IFTU and chair of the International Committee. Alf Purcell, a very left-wing Council member, assumed the chair as well as the IFTU Presidency. He had communist and syndicalist sympathies, though he had just been elected as the Labour MP for Coventry. A French Polisher by trade from the same small craft union, NAFTA, as Bramley, he was for years chair of the very left and influential Manchester and Salford Trades Council. Purcell had been chair of the Hands off Russia campaign which led the TUC to threaten a general strike against British government armed intervention against the Bolsheviks in 1920. He had visited Russia on a Labour delegation that year and again led a TUC delegation there in November 1924, when he was awarded honorary membership by the Moscow Soviet. Citrine said that he relied on Purcell’s advice as Chair of the General Council in Bramley’s absences on all key matters.

The other key left-wing General Council member was George Hicks (1870-1954), who would accompany Citrine to Russia in 1925. He was a bricklayer and General Secretary of the recently amalgamated building trades union, the AUBTW, whose offices were in Clapham, where Citrine also lived until he moved to Harrow in 1925. It was their large membership which put Bramley and Purcell on the General Council from his electoral trade group. Hicks replaced Thomas as chair of the important International Committee and at the IFTU in Amsterdam, where he was a strong supporter of the Russian unions’ bid. He was deeply involved in the General Strike and chaired the General Council 1927-8 and became a Labour MP for Woolwich East in 1931. He was a close associate of Purcell’s, having both been active in Tom Mann’s Industrial Syndicalist League (ISEL) before and during the war. Many other TUC leaders were also very supportive of these pro-Soviet policies at that time. Alonzo Swales, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (AEU) and chair of the General Council after Purcell, chaired the meetings of the Anglo-Russian Committee. Ben Tillett (1870-1952), of the Transport & General Workers Union and a legendary leader of dockers’ strikes, was a leading member of the 1924 delegation to the USSR and an enthusiastic supporter of the new ‘Workers Republic’. Ernest Bevin, who had become the new T&GWU’s General Secretary in 1922 and joined the General Council in 1925, though generally supportive, was not involved much. Arthur Cook who took over as Secretary of the Miners Federation in 1924, was one of the strongest supporters of the Soviet link. Will Thorne of the GMWU was always supportive of Bramley and Purcell on IFTU delegations, though not greatly involved.

It was this TUC leadership that Citrine now found himself serving congenially as their policies of building up a strong union centre accorded very much with his own left-wing views.

Soviet trade unionists attending the TUC conference in Hull

Soviet trade unionists attending the TUC conference in Hull, September 1924. Centre front: Mikhail Tomsky, the chair of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (VTsSPS). At the back, Citrine, Swales and Hicks.

TUC relations with the Russian trade unionists
A warm and friendly liaison developed with the Russian union delegates when they came to Britain in 1924 as part of a trade delegation, led by the chair of the Russian TUC, Mikhail Tomsky. Their trade talks with the Labour government were successfully concluded in August 1924, with significant TUC input. The TUC invited the Russian union delegation to Congress at Hull in September 1924 and Tomsky’s address was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates who endorsed the General Council’s new policy. In return, a full delegation, led by Bramley and Purcell, were invited for an extended tour of Russia later that year. On their enthusiastic return in 1925, they formed a high-profile Anglo-Russian Joint Advisory Council (ARJAC) to promote their admission to the IFTU and other aims. This committee – including Tomsky, Aleksander Dogodov and Grigoriy Mel’nichansky who would later chaperon Citrine and Hicks around Russia – met at the TUC offices a couple of times that year and Citrine assisted Bramley in officering the Council. His trip to Russia later that year seems to have been an outcome of those contacts.

They travelled overland with the Russian trade delegation. The Russian TUC (the All Russian Central Council of Trade Unions), had recently rationalised over a thousand small bodies into twenty-three industrial unions with about 6 million members and their head offices were all housed together in a huge Palace of Labour in Moscow. The British visitors were not impressed by the efficiency of the system of administration or the old-fashioned equipment there. However, they recognised why their history and recent civil war, (in which the unions had played a significant role in support of the Bolshevik government), had prevented a more normal evolution. They spent most time in and around Moscow, visiting the Kremlin and other sights. They weren’t sheltered from the many problems facing the authorities – dilapidated Tsarist-era tenement housing and other buildings; many orphaned children (from the Civil War and famine years), sleeping rough in the cold with very scant clothing. Citrine commented a lot on the role of women in the countryside, who seemed to be doing most of the heavy labour. The benefits system was explained (unemployment and strike pay only was paid by the union, the State paying sickness and superannuation benefits). Also the union contribution system with employers contributing also. They visited Leningrad for a few days but then set off to the Crimea.

Their trip was made particularly interesting from the frank and forthcoming exchanges they had with their senior union hosts. They had many late night sessions with Tomsky, Mel’nichansky, the Organising Secretary, (whose English was quite good as he had spent some time in Canada before the revolution) Dogodov and Yarotsky (translator, also a Bolshevik activist). They talked freely about who would succeed the late Lenin as leader from which it was clear that an intense power struggle was well under way. Citrine was surprised to learn that Trotsky was not favoured by the unions on account of his proposals for turning them into functionaries of the socialist state. They preferred Stalin’s more ‘down to earth’ approach, ’although no one could replace Lenin’. Citrine and Hicks were shocked to find that Lenin had become a god-like figure since his death, whose every utterance had to be treated as ‘gospel’. Even Hicks, an old-school Marxist, remarked on it. They also had an interview with Gregoriy Zinoviev, Head of the Communist International since 1919. It was his purported Red Letter in 1924 (a forgery but widely believed at the time), urging British communists to infiltrate the troops in preparation for an English revolution, which helped bring down the Labour government. Citrine and most at the TUC, believed that the huge pre-election publicity given to this Red Letter and MacDonald’s handling of it contributed to the defeat of that Labour government. Zinoviev brushed aside any such discussion and was more concerned to tackle the visitors about the recent decision of the Labour Party to disaffiliate the CPGB.

Visit cut short
In the Crimea, they learned of TUC General Secretary, Fred Bramley’s sudden death early in October 1925 at Amsterdam. Citrine was summoned back to London to act as General Secretary. It evidently came as a great shock to the Soviet leaders also as Bramley had been their great friend at the IFTU. They arranged a special event to mourn his passing, mounting a full-blown picture prominently with full honours. Citrine and Hicks were given a warm send-off despite their (especially Citrine’s), sometimes more critical engagement with the Russian trade union leaders.


Bermondsey strikes of August 1911

Pinks' Jam Factory, strikers, Bermondsey, 1911

Pinks’ Jam Factory, strikers, Bermondsey, 1911

Guest blogger Bob Reeves writes about the Bermondsey strikes of August 1911 and the use he made of the TUC Library Collections when researching through the Gertrude Tuckwell Collection. He is researching local working class history for the last couple of years, published on his Blog.

In August 1911 an estimated 15,000 women went on s.trike in twenty-three Bermondsey factories. It all erupted suddenly, led by women with no previous trade union experience. Employers were rattled and offered concessions: most factories went back to work after ten days with victories on pay, conditions and work practices.

By the second day Mary MacArthur and Dr Marion Phillips from the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) arrived on the scene to help formulate demands and facilitate strike organisation. The Bermondsey LP headquarters in Fort Rd became the organising hub for food relief, mostly bread and sterilised milk.

That summer of 1911 was the hottest for years. September 14th recorded the 35th day in London over 80 F. Food went off, milk was unsafe and, in densely packed working-class districts like Bermondsey, child mortality, following a decade of health-care progress, rose steeply. Families were even shorter of money than usual as dockers, railwaymen and transport workers had been on strike over previous weeks. “Great Railway Strike” was headline news, and troops occupied Liverpool shooting dead two young pickets.

On the south London riverside men worked in the docks, transport and storage in large numbers. Women worked in a profusion of factories which had expanded over the previous decade: jam, pickles, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, tea packing, metal boxes. Hartley’s, jam employed 1,500 and Peak Frean’s biscuits 2,500. Work in a jam factory must have been horrible in that heat. It was always dangerous and back-breaking work, lifting vats of bubbling liquid. Others spent long hours standing on dirty wet floors.

Mary MacArthur, the charismatic young general secretary of the NFWW, had great talent, not only for inspirational public speaking, but for dramatic publicity. The NFWW organised public appeals raising considerable sums to buy food. What was significant, however, was that the NFWW put themselves at the service of the strikers; they were not, as was persistently alleged in the press, outside agitators. This movement was marked by spontaneity and improvisation with something new and very theatrical about it. Women marched through the main streets singing and chanting. From Pinks jam factory they carried banners declaring “We are not white slaves, we’re Pinks slaves”.

It started on August 10th, or the day before, and stories that one confectionary factory marched through the streets calling other factories out are probably apocryphal. Nevertheless, within days it “spread like fever” ( Daily News, 11/08/1911), inspiring women in Deptford and Millwall; and then at Murrays confectionary in Farringdon, from where they marched to Bermondsey to seek advice and solidarity.

Shocking low-pay was used to appeal for Middle-class sympathy. One commentator was saddened that women asked for so little- bottlewashers at Candlish won 12s pw up from 9/6.

Nostalgic histories of the Edwardian era gloss over economic deprivation. Between 1900 and 1910 real wages fell by at least 10% while profits for the richest were never better. Sound familiar?

But I suspect it was about more than low-pay. It was a shout of defiance. Perhaps Bermondsey women had just had enough. High on their lists of grievances was an end to arbitrary fines and deductions; women wanted day-rates not piece-work. They wanted guaranteed minimum earnings – they could be stood down at short notice to suit employers who, when demand rose, forced overtime, often contravening Factory Acts about hours of work. They wanted somewhere clean, away from the factory floor, to eat dinner, and clean toilets.

Overwhelmingly this work was done by women but supervised by male checkers, foremen, pay clerks and of course, male managers. Reading between the lines the strikers were defying bullying and powerlessness. Murrays’ workers were particularly angry about production bonuses paid to foremen which encouraged them to ‘drive’ the women, as you can imagine.

Many women were young, some only 14, but as often they were married with children. Younger women were the most militant, but they weren’t “Girls” as every single press report described them belittlingly, suggesting they were either misled by agitators or frightened by intimidating pickets of… other “Girls”. In my trawl through local and national press I found just one instance of a reporter bothering to talk to a striker.

“We are striking for more pay, Mister, and we won’t go back until we get it”. (Southwark and Bermondsey Recorder, 18/08/1911), outside Shuttleworths Chocolates.

Although the strikes were unlikely to have been in solidarity with the men, it’s probable the example was important. The essential point is that they was led by local women, only assisted by middle-class activists from the NFWW. The women’s suffrage movement, while predominantly middle-class, could have been another example.

I’ve been asked to explain why Bermondsey and why just then, and I’m only left with more questions than answers. The record doesn’t tell us what women thought and felt yet it must have been a dramatic experience. Where are their voices? Perhaps some talked to grandchildren who are still around today?


Madeleine Symons: Social and Penal Reformer and Trade Unionist

Madeleine Symons, c. 1924. Courtesy Emma Corbett

Madeleine Symons, c. 1924. Courtesy Emma Corbett

Guest blogger Martin Ferguson Smith writes about Madeleine Symons and the use he made of the TUC Library Collections when researching her for his book Madeleine Symons: Social and Penal Reformer, published on 27 October 2017 by SilverWood Books, Bristol, ISBN 978-1-78132-719-7 (paperback), 978-1-78132-748-7 (ebook). Martin is an emeritus professor at Durham University and has a website at

Madeleine Jane Symons – Robinson after her marriage in 1940 – had a privileged upbringing. Born in 1895 to wealthy parents, she was educated at a private boarding school and Newnham College, Cambridge. But from the time she left university until her death in 1957, she worked tirelessly to improve the lot of those who were less fortunate than herself.

In her last year at Newnham she was president of its Society for Women’s Suffrage. In May 1916, just before she completed her studies, the Society was addressed by Susan Lawrence on the position of women in industry during the war and on the need to extend trade union membership among women. A few weeks later Madeleine became an officer in the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) and its sister organisation, the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW). Lawrence was one of her senior colleagues. Others included Mary Macarthur, general secretary of the WTUL, Gertrude Tuckwell, president of the NFWW, Margaret Bondfield, and Jimmy Mallon. Madeleine soon gained a reputation for being an outstandingly successful negotiator. To Macarthur she became not only an invaluable colleague, but also a close friend, and, after Macarthur’s early death on 1 January 1921, she was much involved with the care of Macarthur’s young daughter, Nancy Anderson.

On 28 July 1925 Madeleine turned thirty and became eligible to vote for the first time. It is quite a thought that by that time she had not only been a trade union officer for nine years, but also served on the executive committee of the Labour Party, as a Justice of the Peace, and as a member of the Royal Commission on Lunacy and Mental Disorder.

The following year, her trade union career was ended by pregnancy and unmarried motherhood. Her lover and the father of her daughter was Jimmy Mallon, a married man and the warden of Toynbee Hall. He had been a professional colleague of hers since 1916. Madeleine adopted the child in 1927 and, two years later, adopted a boy, of whom she was not the biological mother. When she returned to public life in 1932, it was as a juvenile magistrate in London. For the next twenty-five years she gave outstanding service not only to the juvenile courts, but also to the Howard League for Penal Reform and other welfare organisations and to the work of departmental committees.

With my daughter, Lucinda Smith, an archives assistant, I had the privilege of spending a day and a half in the TUC Library Collections in January 2016, investigating Madeleine’s career, mainly the earlier part of it. I am most grateful for the kind permission to do this, and for the expert guidance of Jeff Howarth, Academic Liaison Librarian.

The research was concentrated on three collections:

1. The WTUL Minute Books, 1911-1921, catalogue no. HD 6079. The first mention of Madeleine is in the minutes of an executive committee meeting on 8 November 1917. Her “excellent work … in the matter of negotiations with firms etc” was reported, and it was agreed that she be invited to join the EC. From January 1919 on, there are frequent references to her efforts to improve the pay and conditions of many groups of women workers, including laundresses, waitresses, and makers of tinned foods, aerated water, tin boxes, safety pins, perambulators, and umbrellas. In the summer of 1921 the WTUL ceased to exist. The minutes of the EC meeting of 26 May 1921 record its agreement that the work of the WTUL be carried on by the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC. Several months earlier, in early February, the NFWW had amalgamated with the National Union of General Workers, with Margaret Bondfield becoming chief secretary of the Women Workers’ Section and Madeleine its assistant secretary and head negotiator.

2. The Gertrude Tuckwell Papers, especially catalogue no. 701, a valuable collection of press cuttings that includes many items relating to Madeleine’s trade union work in the years 1918-1920. The cuttings sometimes confirm and often supplement information in the WTUL minute books. They document not only Madeleine’s efforts on behalf of poorly paid or unemployed women workers, but also her participation in delegations and conferences and her concern about the situation in Europe after WW1.

3. The Mary Macarthur Holiday Trust Archive, specifically Minute Books 001 and 003 and Folder 006. Very soon after Macarthur’s death, her close colleagues decided that the most appropriate way to honour her memory was to establish a holiday home for working women. Its patroness was Queen Mary, who had long taken an active interest in the problems of the poor and in women’s employment. Madeleine was a member of the Committee of Management and assistant honorary secretary. She left the Committee in 1928, but returned in 1934 and thereafter was closely involved in its work for most of the rest of her life, from December 1949 as chairman.

The contributions Madeleine made to the women’s trade union movement during and after WW1 and to the promotion of social justice and penal reform throughtout her adult life were significant and admirable, but until now have been largely overlooked. The material about her in the TUC Library Collections much helped in the writing of the first biography of her, published sixty years after her death.


Remembering Chris Braithwaite

Chris Braithwaite

Permission for cover provided by the author.

Historian and guest blogger Christian Høgsbjerg writes about Chris Braithwaite, who is the subject of a new exhibition ‘A Necessary Fiction’ at the Ideas Store.

The remarkable and inspiring life of the black Barbadian socialist, seafarer, trade unionist and anti-colonialist Chris Braithwaite (1885-1944) has long been overlooked, and so it is wonderful that on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, two new exhibitions in Britain have opened to pay tribute to this great working class fighter and radical. “A Necessary Fiction” is a superb art exhibition focused on Braithwaite’s anti-colonial and anti-capitalist activism in 1930s London by the artist Basil Olton, and is at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, a part of London that Braithwaite came to make his home. In another great port city, Liverpool, “Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors” at Merseyside Maritime Museum also rightly recognises Braithwaite’s pioneering contribution.

As a teenager, Braithwaite enrolled as a colonial seafarer in the British merchant navy to try and escape the desperate poverty of the colonial Caribbean, before settling in Chicago and raising a family. During the First World War he rejoined the merchant navy alongside many other colonial seafarers.

After the war, Braithwaite moved to the “black metropolis” of New York, and almost certainly would have witnessed a mass strike across the waterfront of that city in 1919. Many black Caribbean mariners settled in America, and some became leading politically radical Communist militants in the American working class movement like Ferdinand Smith, the Jamaican born co-founder of the National Maritime Union and the equally remarkable figure of Hugh Mulzac, who after travelling to New York from Barbados worked for a period as a ship captain on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line.
Braithwaite instead moved to Britain and managed to secure a relatively privileged job working for the employer’s Shipping Federation in London’s Docklands, finding and supplying colonial seafarers, engineers, stokers and others, often at a few hours notice. However, he quite remarkably also immersed himself in the working class movement through the National Union of Seamen (NUS), adopting the pseudonym “Chris Jones” to avoid victimisation.

Braithwaite challenged the incredibly exploitative and oppressive experience faced by black and Asian colonial seafarers, which saw institutional state racism and the threat of deportation as well as a more informal racist scapegoating encouraged by the ship-owners under the slogan “British men for British ships” and open colluded in by the NUS.

Braithwaite joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and came to the fore fighting for working class unity as a leader of colonial seafarers and dockers in inter-war Britain and developing a reputation as a powerful orator while campaigning for the Scottsboro Boys. However like many other outstanding black radicals such as the Trinidadian Marxist George Padmore, he broke with orthodox Communism after its political sidelining of anti-colonialism after the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in 1933 and the subsequent turn to the Popular Front. Yet like Padmore, Braithwaite remained a radical socialist activist, working closely with the Independent Labour Party and throwing himself into militant Pan-Africanist agitation against fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, addressing mass International African Friends of Ethiopia rallies in Trafalgar Square.
In 1935, Braithwaite founded the Colonial Seamen’s Association, for the first time effectively bringing together black and Asian colonial seafarers in one organisation. Working alongside leading black activists like C.L.R. James, Amy Ashwood Garvey, George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Isaac Wallace-Johnson and Ras T Makonnen, Braithwaite also helped form the International African Service Bureau in 1937, becoming its organising secretary. He wrote a monthly column for the IASB journal, International African Opinion, ‘Seamen’s Notes’, and ensured this illegal ‘seditious’ publication was distributed through his network of radical seafarers into colonial Africa.
Like James and Padmore, Braithwaite tirelessly and eloquently articulated the case against British imperialism at mass meetings of trade unionists and socialists across Britain. All the time Braithwaite lived the life of a colonial seafarer with his family, and during the Depression he organised in his own street, Turners’ Road, in impoverished Stepney, east London, to make sure no children went hungry. After he died suddenly in 1944, black seafarers insisted on carrying his coffin from his home to his grave in tribute.

The last words might go to his good friend and comrade George Padmore, who noted that Braithwaite’s ‘death is a great loss to the cause of the colonial peoples as well as International Socialism, the finest ideals and traditions of which he upheld to the very end… He never spared himself in rendering aid to the cause of the oppressed. Many were the working-class battles and campaigns in which he gave his best … his memory will long remain as a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of his race’.

Christian Høgsbjerg is a historian and the author of Chris Braithwaite: Mariner, Renegade and Castaway (Redwords, 2014), available for £4 from


Twenty-Five Years After: Cipriani and the British West Indies Regiment after the First World War


Cover of Twenty-Five Years After

Guest blogger Michael Joseph writes about his recent research in the TUC Library. Michael is studying for a DPhil in History at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research focuses on the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean from 1912-1939, considering the impact of the First World War on local and imperial politics in the region. (All publications shown are in the TUC Library).

Cipriani Boulevard in Port of Spain, Trinidad connects Lapeyrouse Cemetery with the Queen’s Park Savannah to its north. At one end of the street, named for his uncle and the city’s former mayor, Emmanuel Cipriani, lies the former race-course at which A.A. Cipriani enjoyed so much success as a horse trainer; at the other, the cemetery in which so many of the colony’s most prominent white, or French Creole, families, including his own, chose to bury their dead. This quirk of the urban landscape, however accidental, nonetheless highlights the unlikely journey which Cipriani made from his pre-war life as a member of the colony’s white cocoa plantocracy, to the leader of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association (TWA) and the so-called ‘Champion of the Barefoot Man’.

Publication by the Trinidad Workingmen's Association

Publication by the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association

Cipriani’s Twenty-Five Years After. The British West Indies Regiment in the Great War 1914-1918 (1940), of which the TUC Library holds one of very few extant copies worldwide, takes us some way to understanding this process. The pamphlet comprises fourteen chapters which narrate Cipriani’s prominent role in the formation of the Trinidadian contingent of the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR), and then provide a largely operational account of the BWIR’s wartime experiences in Egypt and Palestine. This section is then followed by further chapters which deal, for example, with the BWIR detachment in the East African campaign, and Cipriani’s struggle to secure a War Office inquiry into the racism perpetrated against the BWIR at the Taranto demobilisation camp. Although published in 1940, textual clues suggest that the pamphlet, some concluding remarks dated June 1940 aside, was completed between July and August 1921 and not substantially revised prior to publication.

Portrait and biography of author A.A. Cipriani

Portrait and biography of author A.A. Cipriani

Cipriani is an important figure in my work, both for his role in the BWIR and the TWA. My research examines the relationship between the First World War and ideas of citizenship across the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean from 1912 to 1939. I explore how West Indians at home and across the diaspora understood the war as a political and economic moment, and how the transnational discussions which fed into this process relate to the major constitutional changes of the twentieth century: independence and départementalisation.

Report by Ciprian, President of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association "to represent the interests of the working classes".

Report by Cipriani, President of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association “to represent the interests of the working classes”.

Cipriani was instrumental in transforming the TWA into a vibrant force for self-government and, in capturing him just prior to his election as president in 1923, Twenty-Five Years After provides a valuable insight into the development of his political consciousness. We can learn much from the way the text lingers on Taranto, where the overt racism and persecution practised by the camp commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Carey-Bernard, challenged Cipriani’s former certainties about Britain and its empire. Particularly revealing is the attention devoted to Carey-Bernard’s abuse of courts-martial to target the BWIR, and the way in which Cipriani dwells on the colour bar which excluded the West Indians from certain inter-regimental sporting events. These preoccupations point to the importance to Cipriani of concepts like ‘British justice’ and ‘fair play’, which supposedly lay at the heart of what it was to be British, and the profound impact of his realisation that access to them was, in reality, dependent on whiteness. His spirited defence of the BWIR men, both at Taranto and on his return to Trinidad, was among the main reasons for his post-war popularity among the colony’s black working class.

Indeed, we see in the pamphlet how this experience of advocating for the BWIR over the course of the conflict cemented his belief in the absolute necessity of West Indian federation. By the end of the war, Cipriani was convinced that the numerous colonial governments, which had proven unable or unwilling to make their voices heard individually in defence of their men, could only face the future as a single unit. Cipriani would become one of the policy’s most vocal advocates in the 1920s.

Although sometimes lost amid the radicalism of the mid-to-late 1930s, Cipriani’s importance in the evolution of the Trinidadian labour movement and the colony’s push for self-government is unquestionable. Twenty-Five Years After goes some way to allowing us to understand his intellectual development, and my thanks go to the TUC Library for allowing me to access it.


Boris Ford and the Army Bureau of Current Affairs


Cover of Bureau of Current Affairs

Guest blogger Colin Waugh, Editor, Post-16 Educator writes about his recent research in the TUC Library.

I’m involved in an oral history-type project where, since 2013, we have interviewed 50 people who taught Liberal and General Studies in FE colleges between 1960 and about 1990. The conclusions we can draw from analysing these interviews will depend in part on what we can establish about how this element came to be attached to vocational courses for day- and block-releases students in the first place.

A key document here is a report, Liberal Education in a Technical Age (1955). This was produced by a National Institute for Adult Education (NIAE) working party. The paid secretary to this working party – and hence the likely architect of the report’s recommendations – was Boris Ford.

I needed to identify relevant aspects of Ford’s experience. In particular what, if any, involvement did he have with the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) during World War 2, and precisely what role did he play in its civilian successor, the Bureau of Current Affairs (BCA), which existed from 1946-1952?

In 2009 I had been told by Chris Coates, at that time curator of the TUC Library Collections at London Metropolitan University, that these contained ABCA-related material, and when she reminded me of this more recently, I applied to look in the Collections for information about Ford, eventually coming to the library, which by this time had moved to Goulston Street, on 22 August this year.

Both before this visit and during it I received outstanding advice and support from Jeff Howarth and Lucy Bradley, and as a result we were able to locate two key documents. The first of these, written in 1947 by the radical general Sir Ronald Adam, shows the links between ABCA and the BCA, and the second, a pamphlet written by Ford in 1952, in which he gave a retrospective account of the BCA, both shows the role he played in that (initially as Editor in Chief, then as Director) and establishes the connection that those founding it intended to build between the BCA and further education.


The Russian Revolution and the early TUC and labour delegations


In the second of our series based on Dr Ben Phillips’s curation of our new exhibition, he looks at the early TUC and labour delegations to Russia .

Fred Bramley and the 1924 delegation visit

Above panel 7 from our new exhibition The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917 to 1926.

Several British labour delegations visited Russia and the Soviet Union during the period in question – one in 1917, another in 1920, a third in 1925 and finally the Women’s Delegation of 1925. Their composition and objectives varied considerably, reflecting the labour politics of their time – for instance, the 1917 delegation met with the Provisional Government and urged support for the continuation of the First World War, whereas the 1920 delegation, against the backdrop of Hands Off Russia, was staunchly anti-interventionist. Overall, the 1924 delegation is the best documented – something we owe to the personal papers of Fred Bramley, then the TUC’s General Secretary and a key participant in the delegation. All these photos you see here are from Bramley’s papers, which are held by the TUC Library. They provide us with an extraordinarily vivid – if undoubtedly partial and highly sanitised – insight into life in the early Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of foreign visitors.

The Bramley papers are, of course, personal artefacts. In my opinion, some of the most interesting and touching documents featured in this exhibition are those attesting to the interpersonal friendships and relationships interwoven through the broader solidarities and alliances on display. For various reasons, I particularly like these three below.

letter from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow

The above letter is from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow to the TUC, written in 1924, requesting help locating the minutes of the First International in the archives of the Bishopsgate Institute.

declaration of fraternal greetings

The letter above is a declaration of fraternal greetings to the 1924 TUC delegation from trade unionists in Soviet Central Asia, in which they promise to bestow unspecified ‘robes of honour’ on the British visitors.

The one below is probably my favourite. The woman in the photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova, then a Bolshevik and secretary of the Comintern. The photo was addressed to Margaret Bondfield, founder of the Women’s Labour League and subsequently a cabinet minister under Ramsay MacDonald. The two had first met in Switzerland in 1915 at a conference organised by the Women’s International of Socialist & Labour Organisations. When Bondfield took part in the TUC’s 1920 delegation visit to Petrograd and Moscow, they met again. The caption reads:

‘To dear comrade Margaret Bondfield. Bern 1915 – Moscow 1920. Remember how sad things looked then, and how bright and hopeful they are now in our free proletarian Russia, cradle of universal socialism.’

photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova

This optimism didn’t last. Despite having supported the Bolshevik government in 1920, Bondfield later became an anti-communist, while Balabanova emigrated to Italy only two years after this, having fallen out of favour with the Soviet authorities.